Wests Tigers survived a bombing barrage to consolidate fourth spot on the NRL ladder with a hard-earned 24-22 win over Cronulla at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday night.
Second rower Liam Fulton bagged a double as the Tigers outscored the Sharks five tries to four in a patchy performance against a spirited Cronulla side. The Tigers sparkled only sporadically against the lowly Sharks, who cut a 24-16 deficit back to two points with ten minutes remaining.
Three of the visitors four tries came from bombs, with Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri enduring an uncomfortable night under the fusillade of high kicks.
It was a match in which late replacements and players lining up against their former club had a profound influence.
Former Tiger Dean Collis scored two tries for the visitors, including the first of the game in the 12th minute, when his strength allowed him to squeeze through attempted tackles from centre Chris Lawrence and Tuqiri.
Ex-Shark Mitch Brown, a replacement for Wade McKinnon who withdrew with a hamstring issue, was denied by video referee Phil Cooley before pounced Robbie Farah kick little more than a minute later.
Fulton grabbed his first in the 25th minute but the Sharks levelled with winger Blake Ferguson, a late replacement for Issac Gordon, crossing on the half hour after a Tuqiri blemish under the high ball.
Lawrence had a try scrubbed by Cooley when he was bundled into touch, but his 40 metre dash right on halftime gave the home team a 14-10 lead at the break.
Early in the second half Ferguson had a try denied when he was pushed into touch, but the Leichhardt faithful weren’t so happy with Cooley’s next ruling with Collis’ second try after the Tigers again failed to deal with a bomb.
Tuqiri got some attacking payback with a 65th minute try which gave Wests a 24-16 lead, the Sharks setting up a nerve-wracking finish with a converted try to fullback Nathan Gardner off yet another high kick.
Lawrence kicked one from two after relieving Benji Marshall of the goalkicking duties after the mercurial five-eighth landed just one out of three first half attempts, giving him four from 14 over the last three weeks. This is something that the Tigers are going to have to get right in the forthcoming weeks if they are going to do themselves any justice in the play-offs.
Cronulla coach Flanagan lamented three decisions which went against his side and described them collectively as “a massive turnaround”.
He queried no-try rulings by the officials on Ferguson and also centre Ben Pomeroy, who was hit with a “held” call in the dying seconds as he attempted to score a match winning try.
“Whether it’s a try or not I don’t know, I think there was some other decisions probably worse than that,” Flanagan told reporters.
Pomeroy was adamant it was a legitimate try.
“I thought I got pushed in that direction and fell on my front, the ball landed on the line,” Pomeroy said,
“We struggled a bit, we did some good things and did some ordinary things as well,” Sheens said.